Victim Services Volunteer of Year

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 6 a.m. January 3, 2020

A longtime, dedicated mentor was recognized as the Victim Services Toronto volunteer of the year.

Three women stand together with a plaque
Volunteer of the Year Diana Helmy (centre) is recognized by Victim Services Toronto Executive Director Bonnie Levine and Program Manager Sarah Rogers

While doing an undergraduate degree in Criminology & Ethics, Society & Law at the University of Toronto, Diana Helmy became aware of Victim Services Toronto (VST).

“I went to an information session and it just seemed like the work they do is very meaningful,” she said.

A year after graduating in 2007, Helmy – a Project Assistant in the Office of the Chief Coroner – joined the organization as a Volunteer Crisis Counsellor.

She is still there, providing crisis intervention support for clients affected by crime and sudden tragedies, performing needs assessments to determine immediate concerns, initiating client referrals to social service agencies and training new volunteers.

“Victim Services is an amazing program,” said Helmy, who was presented with the Sandy Cappadocia Memorial Award at VST’s annual general meeting and dinner on December 12 at the Old Mill. “When you volunteer, you realize how much help people need, especially in areas like domestic violence. Many of them are newcomers who don’t know how to be connected to the right resources.”

Cappadocia was a 10-year VST volunteer who succumbed to brain cancer in December 2005 at age 33.

VST Program Manager Sarah Rogers and the agency’s Executive Director, Bonnie Levine, made the presentation.

Rogers, who was a frontline counsellor, worked closely with Helmy – who has a Master of Law from Osgoode Hall law School – when she joined the organization.

“The work that we do at Victim Services Toronto is unique, to say the least,” she said. “Day in and day out, we expose ourselves to trauma and support victims often at the lowest points and most devastating moments of their lives. One of the most difficult aspects of our job is sitting with and holding space for another person’s pain and suffering and meeting it with care and compassion.  It takes a unique, skillful, caring and genuine person such as Diana to volunteer their time to provide this difficult and often taxing support to those who need it most. Diana exemplifies selflessness, generosity and kindness.”

When the city experienced the North York Van Attack and Danforth Shooting in 2018, Helmy – without hesitation – took time off from her full-time job to assist.

“She fielded countless calls from victims looking for their loved ones, provided a comforting ear and sat through the pain and suffering of victims,” Rogers noted. “The mass casualty events sent waves through our agency. We were all tested to our limits, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We were reminded as helpers that we are not immune to the effects of trauma. Yet at the same time, we were reminded of the incredible support we have.”

Rogers said Helmy has been a fierce and loyal supporter long before these tragic incidents took place.

“She has been consistent and steady with us through thick and thin,” she added. “Dedicating her time to raise awareness about our services at community booths, she has raised funds through the Yorkville Run and Chief’s Gala and currently shares her knowledge and expertise with new volunteers in her role as a Volunteer Mentor.”

Outgoing Board Director Const. Tony Vella, of Traffic Services, was presented with the Leadership Appreciation Award.

Levine said Vella, who served the maximum six years, was an active member of the Board’s Communications and Government Relations Elected Officials Committee.

“Over the years, Tony has worked diligently to raise the profile of Victim Services,” said Levine. “He has arranged several appearances on a variety of media outlets and was an extremely reliable Board member. He is someone who follows though on everything he says he will do.”

Five years ago, Dandy – a yellow Labrador trauma dog – joined VST to provide comfort and support to victims.

In the last fiscal year, 184 people – 74 per cent of them children and youth – were assisted through the Trauma Dog Program.

VST provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours a day.

Supervised by crisis counsellors, volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the phone or attend the scene as requested. They also assist with fundraising and other community outreach initiatives, including TEAR (Teens Ending Abusive Relationships)

There were 30,021,229 twitter impression for #TEARtalk last year.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, VST staff and 204 volunteers donated 37,512 hours which is a 54 per cent increase in volunteer hours from the previous year and they provided essential services to 23,604 victims, including 8,498 children and youth.

A man and a woman stand with a plaque
Bonnie Levine honours Constable Tony Vella for his work on the Board

“This is an incredible number,” said Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart. “This has been a time of transformation and modernization for the Toronto Police Service as the focus is even more on our vital partnerships with the community, ensuring that, collectively, we are mobilized to deal with issues in the most effective way possible and, in the case of victims of crime, in the most compassionate way possible. In this context, the compassionate and collaborative philosophy embodied by the Victim Services program is more important than ever.”

Hart heaped praise on the volunteers, saying they are an incredible group of people. 

“Routinely placed in challenging, emotional and intense situations, you provide remarkable strength and support those in our community who need it the most’” he pointed out. “It is because of you that Victim Services is able to play such a vital role in building safe and healthy communities. I am honoured to have this opportunity to say that we truly value all that you do. Yours is an important task – noble, inspirational an, frequently, extremely challenging.”

VST Board Chair Linda Massey, whose son James Massey was murdered a short distance from the family home in 2012, and Acting Chief Peter Yuen also attended the event.

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